Photo of Maria Woltjen in a green dress

Monday, April 8, 2019

Activist, lawyer and immigration law scholar Maria Woltjen will be Northeastern Illinois University’s May 2019 Commencement speaker.

Woltjen is the founder and Executive Director of The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the University of Chicago Law School. The Young Center’s primary work is to advocate for the safety and well-being of unaccompanied and separated immigrant children. Woltjen’s focus is on reforming the immigration system—in which children are treated as adults—into a justice system that recognizes children as children, with rights and protection needs all their own.

“Ms. Woltjen’s work is timely and impactful, and her mission of social justice resonates with the Northeastern Illinois University community,” University President Gloria J. Gibson said. “Our University is home to large number of students, faculty and staff who are immigrants and refugees, or have worked closely with immigrants and refugees. Ms. Woltjen’s efforts to protect children and fight for their rights mirrors what we strive to do at Northeastern—give youth, no matter where they come from, the opportunity to succeed.”

Woltjen, a full-time faculty member at the University of Chicago, was named a 2018 Chicagoan of the Year by Chicago Magazine. She received the 2013 Ruth Goldman Award from the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy for her tireless commitment protecting the rights of immigrant children, especially those who enter the United States without a parent or guardian. Woltjen also received the 2017 UNICEF Chicago Humanitarian Award.

Commencement is scheduled for 4 p.m. May 6 at Credit Union 1 Arena (formerly UIC Pavilion), 525 S. Racine Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are required. The ceremony will be streamed live at